The capital of Vietnam is an incredible place, so busy and yet alive with culture and history.
If you’re short on time and only have one day in Hanoi you want to make sure you make the most of it. We’ve put together a full day itinerary covering the highlights of Hanoi – everything from the ancient Emperors to French colonial architecture.
Put your walking shoes on (or jump in a Grab) and soak up these top attractions.
One day in Hanoi – Plan Your Own Self-Guided Hanoi City Tour
How to Get Around Hanoi
There are multiple ways you can travel around Hanoi.
Walking is a great way to explore when you only have one day in Hanoi. You can take in the sights and smells as you move through the streets and really get a feel for the city.
Many of the stops on our itinerary below can be easily walked, although there are a couple you may want to find transport to.
Taxis are a fast and easy way to move around the city. Watch out for scams though – they’re chronic in Hanoi! Avoid paying flat fees and make sure that the meter is moving at what appears to be a ‘normal’ rate. A common scam is to speed up the meter – if they do that, pay what feels like a reasonable rate and exit the taxi.
If you want to be sure you’re scam-free, then we recommend the Uber of Vietnam – Grab…
Grab – Car or Moto
We wholeheartedly use and recommend Grab. You’ll need to get a Vietnamese Sim Card (or have data roaming enabled) and to download the Grab app, but it’s a reliable way to make sure you get quick service at a fair price – avoiding the potential pitfalls of taxi services.
If you’re up for an adventure you can use local buses to move around the city. Just make sure you know where you’re going and when you need to get off as drivers don’t often speak English.
One day in Hanoi; What to See and Do on your Hanoi City Tour
Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
With only one day in Hanoi you’ll want to make sure you start it with a visit to Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. A popular tourist destination for both foreigners and locals, the Mausoleum in particular gets busy and is only open a few hours in the morning and on certain days.
Ba Dinh Square is the place where Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence which made Vietnam a Democratic Republic on September 2nd 1945.
After he died, a large Mausoleum was built where his embalmed remains are preserved and housed inside. The body looks to be in particularly good shape and viable through a glass window.
Those in the north of Vietnam take Ho Chi Minh quite seriously, so make sure you dress respectfully. That means shoulders and knees covered (and no hats). You’ll also need to behave respectfully once inside the mausoleum and follow the protocol of walking slowly, no stopping and no talking. Be warned, you will be required to leave all bags and cameras outside.
You can access Ba Dinh Square at all times however the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is only open from December until September as follows:
- Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday: 7.30am – 10.30am
- Saturday & Sunday: 7.30am – 11am
- Monday & Friday: Closed
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is closed in October and November so Ho Chi Minh’s body can be sent to Russia for maintenance.
Thang Long Imperial Citadel
Moving further into the past, head from Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum to the Thang Long Imperial Citadel.
The site of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel was the political centre and capital of Vietnam for over 8 centuries. It housed the Vietnamese Emperor and the court until 1810 when the Nguyen Dynasty moved the capital to Hue.
The original buildings, which no longer exist, dated back to around 1010, however over the years they’ve been demolished, rebuilt, destroyed and relocated. On this site today, you’ll see much newer buildings such as the Doan Mon Gate and the Flag tower.
Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2010, the area is under archaeological investigation with ancient pottery and building foundations having been found.
Though it’s not the most exciting of Vietnamese spots, for only 30,000 VDN (NZD2.00, USD1.30) you can wander around from 8am until 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday at 9 Hoang Dieu, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh District.
Hanoi Train Street
Twice a day locals rush to pack away their belongings and move their children indoors as a train comes flying down their street, sometimes only inches away from their homes. This is life on “Train Street” a 500 metre stretch of train track, built along one of Hanoi’s narrow laneways.
For most of the day on train street you’ll see locals going about their day-to-day lives, before suddenly pulling everything inside and into doorways in time for the 3pm and 7pm train.
While any time of the day is worth a visit, if you only have one day in Hanoi and want to see the train you should be there a bit earlier than 3pm as the train schedule is somewhat flexible. Make sure that you’re not on the tracks as the train approaches and have an idea of where you’re going to go when the train comes. The train cannot stop for you so you need to be prepared – safety first!
The actual name of the lane is Ngo 224 Le Duan, and that’s what you’ll want to type into your GPS, it is located between Le Duan and Kham Tien Streets.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
From Train Street you can head towards St Joseph’s Cathedral, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Vietnam, and the oldest Catholic Church in Hanoi.
Construction on the church started in 1886 and it was built in a style similar to Notre Dame de Paris. The Neo Gothic architecture stands out amongst the city and is symbolic of the French influence on Vietnamese culture.
Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle Tower
A place steeped in ancient story, Hoan Kiem Lake holds a special place in the heart of Hanoi’s residents. It is believed that the warrior Le Loi used a sword that came from Hoan Kiem Lake to fend off the Chinese in the 1400’s. He then returned to the lake, where a giant turtle took the sword and dove down to the bottom of the lake, returning the sword to its rightful place.
Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) was built over 150 years ago in honour of Le Loi, it is located on a small island at the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake.
These days, the lake has a special sort of serenity. It is visited by locals who use it for catching up, or recreation, and you’ll often see Tai Chi practitioners practicing their art.
The Old Quarter
Take a wander through the Old Quarter, the most popular tourist area in Hanoi. Once the centre of trade and craftsmanship in Hanoi, many of the long, narrow shop houses now house trendy bars, restaurants and cafes.
Get lost in the sounds and smell of Hanoi, the business, the fast pace and all amongst century old buildings.
Whether you wander through the streets during the day or return at night for the incredible night market, the Old Quarter is a real Hanoi standout.
Tran Quoc Pagoda and Ho Tay (West Lake)
Tran Quoc Pagoda is oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, having been originally built in the 6th century. A beautiful and tranquil temple, it is influenced by the proximity to China, featuring plenty of red, the colour of luck and prosperity. The temple even has a bodhi tree that grew from a clipping of the tree the Buddha sat under all those years ago.
Note that the Tran Quoc Pagoda closes at 4pm, so if you stick around Train Street waiting for the train you may not get to enter the Pagoda however it is still worth a look around West Lake (Ho Tay).
Located on an Island near the shore of West Lake, Hanoi’s largest lake, the Tran Quoc Pagoda is completely surrounded by water.
Take your time exploring the temple and pagoda and then walk the shores of West Lake, where you’ll find plenty of beautiful gardens, and restaurants.
Opening hours for the Tran Quoc Pagoda are 8am until 4pm daily.
Thang Long Water Puppet Show
The perfect way to finish off one day in Hanoi is with a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show in the Old Quarter. The beautiful art of water puppetry arose from a time when the rice paddies would flood and villagers would entertain themselves by performing puppet shows whilst knee deep in water.
Puppeteers control large puppets, sometimes weighing up to 15kgs while they convey legends and stories that have been passed down through history. Traditional music and instruments are played in the background and, when combined with lighting, it creates a fascinating show.
Tours of Hanoi
If you’re really tight on time in Hanoi and are looking for something to keep you busy or allow you to see the city without a fuss, why not join a tour?
- Consider buying a Hop on Hop Off Thang Long Hanoi City tour bus ticket that takes you to various places of interest throughout the city (for about 4 hours). In between, you can learn about the cities history with multi-lingual commentary.
- A Hanoi Street food tour is a great way to explore the culinary delights of the city. Take in the sights as walk local streets and try delicious local foods.
- A full day tour of Hanoi including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Tran Quoc Pagoda is a great way to see the highlights of the city without having to do any of the planning. You’ll also enjoy a cooking class or water puppet show depending on your interests.
Where to Eat With One Day in Hanoi
Vietnam is known for incredible fresh, multi-cultural cuisine and Hanoi is a great place to experience this. We love the following restaurants:
- Duong’s Restaurant, which is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake, offers a great selection of traditional Vietnamese Dishes. Reservations are required.
- For delicious western food such as burgers and craft beers, try Chops in the Old Quarter.
- If it’s delicious street food you’re after, Bun Bo Nam Bo in the old quarter offers delicious southern styled street food.
Where to Stay With Only One Night in Hanoi
Most travellers will choose to stay around Hanoi’s Old Quarter as it’s close to the sights and full of local restaurants, bars and other travellers.
Victoria Home Travel is located in the Old Quarter only 500 meters from the Thang Long Water Puppet show and near Hoan Kiem Lake. It offers air conditioning and free Wi-Fi.
The Trang Trang Premium Hotel is only 100 meters from Hoan Kiem Lake and is extremely popular for its location, amenities and proximity to the lake.
We also recommend the Hanoi Chic Boutique Hotel for comfortable service at affordable prices.
Get Out There with This Itinerary and Organise Your Own Hanoi City Tour!
Hanoi is easy to navigate, safe and offers tremendous value for money. With its vibrant culture and intriguing history, it is a city that’s worth exploring.
Whether you have one day in Hanoi or much longer, we hope this itinerary will help you plan an amazing visit.
Christine – Travellers with Time
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